Passion of The Game of Bridge

Opening Lead Mini Course: Which Card ? – 4 of 4

Statistically in general, you will spend 25% of your game of bridge doing the opening lead. After you know which suit to lead (see previous part), the final thing is to select a card from that suit that you will put on the table for the opening lead. This part is actually the easiest among all the opening lead techniques and guideline. Why? Because this is merely just the agreement with your partner. As long as you and partner has agreed, that will do.

This article is one out of three about Opening Lead. See: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Not Just Partnership Agreement

Yes, it’s true that what to lead on a suit is a matter of partnership agreement. But which agreement that you and your partnership choose can be a good, bad or even poor one. To illustrate, let see some examples below:

  • You have agreement to lead “MUD” (Middle Up Down) from 3 small rags and have difficulties to guess whether this “6” lead is from 3 small cards, fourth best from an Honor, a doubleton until it’s too late. You heard that leading 3rd best/5th best will solve this problem. Well, maybe… but do you know why ?
  • The usual agreement of leading a inner sequence, say AJ10x leads J, is the “top of the inner sequence”. Then you see some “expert” you meet during the play use the opposite, AJ10x leads 10 while with J10xx he lead J (Effectively make partner able to differentiate between AJ10x and J10xx). You cannot just say to your partner, “Cool! Let’s use it” without knowing the big picture.

My points is, your agreement as a whole, must be comprehensive to cover most possibilities without contradict each other. One convention/agreement could be looks good, but it could be a disaster and not compatible with your other convention / agreement. For example: if you are keen to use 3rd best/5th best instead of MUD, then you cannot use 4th best convention anymore. And the consequence is that when partner lead a small card of 5th best or 3rd best you don’t know whether is there an honor or not in the led suit.

So, the message is:do not just use any convention, check it with other convention that you use – they should be exists in harmony. Avoid systemic error!

Which Card To Lead

If you do not really want to be exotic about opening lead, there are plenty of  complete “system” that can be used out there : Rusinov, Cincinnati,  Journalist to name a few. But the most important thing is if you and your partner lead the same thing! Do the 2 exercises (further below) to make sure…

“Standard” Opening Lead


  1. AK doubleton lead K. Leading K promises Q (but no Ace), so lead an K then produce the Ace will show exactly AK doubleton instead of AKxx.
  2. Lead high for doubleton. Why? In No Trump, this will effectively unblocking the suit (especially if the higher card is a honor) giving partner the highest possible trick without waste his/her entry. In suit contract, this also means that partner can give you a ruff if he/she can win the second trick of this suit.

3 Cards

  1. With 2 or more touching honors, lead the top of the sequence. Example: lead Q from QJ2, lead J from J104, J from KJ10, Q from AQJ.
  2. With 1 honor or 2 non touching honors, lead bottom card. Example: lead 3 from K53, lead 9 from KJ9, lead 6 from A86 (Beware suit contract restriction about leading underlead Ace!)
  3. Without any honor, do M.U.D (middle up down). Lead the middle cards. Example: lead 5 from 953 , lead 7 from 976

4 or more Cards or more

  1. AKxx+ or KQxx+: Against no trump contract lead fourth highest, Suit contract lead top of the sequence. Why? Against no trump contract, without support of the tird card of J or 10, defender will only made 2 or 1 trick – leading fourth best gives the best chance of finding that
  2. With 2 or more touching honors, lead the top of the sequence. Example: lead Q from QJ952, lead J from J1094, J from KJ103, Q from AQJ5.
  3. With 1 honor or 2 non touching honors, lead bottom card (fourth best). Example: lead 3 from KJ53, lead 2 from KJ92
  4. Without any honor, lead the second best. Example: lead 5 from 9532 , lead 7 from 9764.


  • If a honor is lead, then it’s must have been singleton, doubleton or have the next lower touching cards (denies  higher touching honor, except [only] AK doubleton).
  • If 9 is lead, then it’s must have been singleton, doubleton or the lowest of 3 cards with 1 or 2 non touching honors. (9 cannot be the top of nothing – as 2nd best is lead from 9742, for example)
  • If 2 is lead, then it’s must have been singleton  or the lowest of 3 or 4 cards with 1 or 2 non touching honor.

“Journalist” Lead

Against No Trump Contract

  • Ace lead: asking partner to unblock honor (Queen or Jack). If there is no honor, give count signal (high=even, low=odd). This lead usually come from strong lead, for example: AKQ10x, AKJ10
  • King lead: from at least KQ10(x+) or AK10(x+) (not asking to unblock) and asking attitude signal
  • Queen lead: from at least QJ9(x+) asking partner to unblock the Jack (usually come from strong KQ109 suit for example) or give attitude signal
  • Jack lead: from at least J108(x+) – denies higher honor.
  • 10 lead: promises interior sequence with 10: Q109(x+), KJ10(x+), A109(x+), K109(x+). Partner need to play honor or give count.
  • 9 lead: suit headed by 10-9
  • other card: top of nothing, weak holding

Against Suit Contract

  • Trump lead trump: lowest card for even number, middle card for odd number. High then low show ruffing intention. Example: lead 5 from 853, lead 5 from Q965.
  • Touching honors: lead lower of the touching honor. Example: K for AKxx+, Q for KQ105. Except: if partner has bid the suit -or- the contract is slam, for doubleton touching honor lead higher honor.
  • Lead lowest card for odd number of card (3,5,7 cards suit). Lead third best to show even number of cards (4,6,8 cards suit)


  • Leading 10 guarantee either Ace, King or Queen
  • This practically remove the guessing whether partner have higher honor or not (when top of inner sequence is lead)
  • Against suit contract: the count is immediately known.

Partnership Exercise

Now, if you have discuss and agree with your partner about what card to lead. Why don’t you do this Opening Lead Partnership Check below. Download the pdf file (just right click and Save As), print 2 times for you and your partner and complete all entry. Then compare and settle the differences.

Opening Lead Check Form (pdf, 57kB ) : print and complete !

Opening Lead Reverse Check (pdf,36kB): print and complete !
This particular exercise is to prepare you playing on the table where the declarer ask “What is the lead?” – giving false or incomplete response may result the director be called and your score adjusted. You also cannot hide any information that you receive from the lead. Hence you can answer (without considering your hand) “Well, a lead of King meaning it can be from: singleton, AK doubleton, doubleton with smaller card, promise Queen with 3 or more cards”

Happy Bridging !!


  1. Denis Kristanda /

    Hi Bernard,
    On “standard” opening lead (read: basic) the main intention is to differentiate whether the opening leader have honor or not.

    So answering your question, on the 2nd play, produce the 9. Hence partner knows that you don’t have honor and it’s not doubleton.
    The drawback is that there is no way to know in this instance whether the opening leader have 4 or 3 cards.

    Advanced player overcome this problem by playing 3rd or 5th best regardless whether he has honor or not, i.e: 97653 lead 3 and 9643 lead 4. With this way, the count will be established sooner but the honor placement still need to be guessed. But better player will find that it’s much easier to guess/placing the honor based on bidding or lack of bidding

    So if you play 2nd best, basically 3,4 or 5 cards of rags you still need to lead the 2nd best.

  2. Dear 7ntbyme,
    I’m interested in opening leads with 4 or 5 rags.
    I understand that with 4 rags I must lead the 2nd highest, e.g. with 9752 lead the 7. But what is the continuation if partner takes the trick and returns the suit. Do you play the 9 which would be similar to MUD or do you play the 2 which may be perceived as a doubleton?

    Same thing for the lead with 5 rags. what should be the lead? and what should be played in second?

    Thank you

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